New Music 10/2019 – Sleater-Kinney, Billie Eilish, Gillian Welch

The best kind of surprise from my long-time faves; I finally jump on the Billie Eilish hype train (and enjoy the ride); more of the warm and lovely folk-country.

Sleater-Kinney – The Centre Won’t Hold

Though I was overjoyed at the recent Sleater-Kinney reunion after a ten-year hiatus, I told myself not to expect too much. A solid comeback album, another chance to see my amazing ladies live – that’s pretty damn good already; if they decided to go their own ways again after this last hurrah, so be it. So this brand new album, which is also a thrilling leap into a bold new sound for the band, comes as a huge and very welcome surprise. The sad news is that drummer Janet Weiss left the band after the completion of the album; it’s pointless to speculate what rubbed her wrong about the new direction but I’ll miss her furious drumming for sure.

Other than this spoonful of tar, the new record is a fresh and exciting listen for this long-time fan. The core of Sleater-Kinney remains unchanged, with Corin Tucker’s magnificent paint-peeling shriek on full display in the very first track, and trademark hard-hitting lyrics, now dealing with being women in their 40s and 50s (There’s nothing more frightening and nothing more obscene / Than a well-worn body demanding to be seen). Musically, the trio strike out in new unexpected directions – synths, clanking percussion, electronic beats and… a piano ballad?? – with the help of producer Annie Clark a.k.a. St. Vincent, whose eccentric fingerprints are all over the record. I really look forward to hearing all the new stuff live, and how many veteran bands can you really say this about?

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Billie Eilish is one of the most famous 17-year-olds in the world right now, and after hearing her singles here and there I thought I’d investigate what the fuss is about. Turns out, hype is justified! Her first album is easily one of the most off-kilter, distinctive and self-assured debuts I’ve heard and she’s, delightfully, a much weirder proposition than your typical teen idol. The album is often dark and gothic yet also fun and playful; there are slow-burn, spectral pop songs and spooky electronica. It’s hard to say whether there’s much vocal range hiding behind Eilish’s whispery delivery, but no matter, personality is what really counts when it comes to pop genre and she’s got it, whether she’s being vulnerable or sardonic.

Gillian Welch – Soul Journey

This record, chronologically the fourth collaboration between Gillian Welch and guitarist David Rawlings but my third album of hers, was more of a slow grower than the other two I’ve got in my collection. On the first few listens, it seemed somehow less ambitious, lacking the scope, intensity and power of Welch’s other work, and there were no instant heart-tugging winners like Time (The Revelator) or Tennessee. Oh and the album name sounds like a title for some hippy-dippy self-help book. But some records just need more love and attention than others; on closer inspection it revealed itself a beautiful collection of warm, rustic front-porch songs. It’s a very mellow, comfortable album; I probably wouldn’t want Welch to return to this mode too often in the future, but it’s a gorgeous listen nonetheless.

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